Each state in the U.S. has its own specific laws regarding the civil legal action referred to as “wrongful death.” The following will provide information regarding the wrongful death laws in Indiana and the rights of surviving family members after a wrongful death occurs.
For additional information pertaining to your specific circumstances, you should discuss your situation with an experienced wrongful death attorney in Indiana.
What is a wrongful death?
The state law in Indiana (Indiana Code 34-23-1-1) states that a wrongful death occurs when “the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” It is important to understand the meaning of “wrongful” when referring to another party’s act or omission. You may assume that this refers to an intentional act of wrongdoing, such as an act of violence. While wrongful death definitely includes acts of violence, it encompasses many other actions that may not have been intentional.
“Wrongful” acts can include acts of negligence, which can be difficult to identify in some situations. A party may be deemed negligent when the following are true:
- The party owed the deceased a duty of care;
- The party breached that duty of care;
- The breach caused injury (in this type of case, the death).
This is the same type of negligence that occurs in a personal injury case. However, unlike a personal injury case, the injured victim has not survived and so they cannot file a legal claim. Instead, another surviving party must file a wrongful death claim to hold the negligent party liable for the losses they caused.
Who is eligible to file an Indiana wrongful death claim?
While surviving family members can be the beneficiaries of any compensation in a wrongful death case, the actual lawsuit needs to be filed by the party that was designated to serve as the personal representative of the estate of the deceased victim. The personal representative is generally designated in a last will and testament or, in absence of a will, appointed by Indiana courts. Often, this party may be a spouse or adult child, however, it may also be an attorney or a non-relative.
If the wrongful death claim results in recovery, the court will determine who should benefit and will divide the settlement or award accordingly. This is usually between a spouse, children, or any others who were dependent on the deceased.
In the case of a wrongful death involving a child, there will be no personal representative. Instead, the parents should file the claim. If the child’s parents are not married, the custodial parent should usually file the claim. Indiana statute (IC 34-23-2) defines “child” as an unmarried person with no dependents who is under the age of 20, or under the age of 23 and enrolled in a postsecondary educational program or technical school.
Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Case
Indiana law also sets out the particular damages that may be sought in a wrongful death claim. Unlike some other states, compensation cannot be sought for the emotional grief that the death caused for family members. Instead, the law only allows a claim to seek compensation for the following losses:
- Medical costs of the injuries prior to the death;
- Expenses for the funeral and burial;
- Earnings and benefits that the deceased would have contributed to the family if the death had not occurred;
- Legal costs of filing the wrongful death claim;
- If the deceased victim was a child, loss of the child’s love, services, and companionship, as well as counseling expenses for immediate family members.
There are additional caveats regarding the above damages, however. For example, any compensation for medical, burial, or funeral costs must go directly into the estate and be used specifically to pay outstanding bills. The beneficiaries, including children and spouse, will receive any recovery for lost income. However, Indiana law also has a cap on wrongful death damages at $300,000 total, so that is the maximum that can be recovered in one claim.
Time Restrictions on Indiana Wrongful Death Filings
After a tragic and unexpected death, it is understandable that surviving family members would want to take time to grieve their loved one and recover emotionally before dealing with any legal actions. However, the Indiana wrongful death statute sets out a very strict time limit for filing this type of claim. Specifically, the claim must be filed within two years of the date of death.
Because wrongful death cases can be complex and involve a significant amount of investigation and preparation, this two-year statute of limitations does not give the personal representative or family members very long to begin the legal process. If you are an Indiana resident and suspect that a wrongful death has occurred in your family, you should consult with a skilled wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to get the compensation you deserve. Contact Dyer, Garofalo, Mann, & Schulz L.P.A. anytime via phone or online for a free consultation.
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